There is a funny thing about kickers in football. No matter how many kicks one may miss in the first 59 minutes of a game, it always has a way to ensure that the one opportunity that comes in the final minute can erase the pains leading up to it.
For Penn State kicker Sam Ficken, that opportunity was there to rewrite the game story on the final play of the game at Virginia, but a last second field goal attempt sailed wide left and Penn State dropped to 0-2 with a 17-16 defeat at Virginia Saturday afternoon.
Ficken was 1-for-5 on field goal attempts, and a missed extra point attempt in the fourth quarter would come back to haunt Penn State as Virginia took the lead on their final extra appoint attempt of the day.
Rather than see the game head to overtime following the missed field goal attempt as the clock expired, Virginia celebrated the one-point victory.
Penn State opened the scoring midway through the first quarter with Matt McGloin connecting on an eight-yard touchdown pass over the middle to tight end Kyle Carter. The converted extra point attempt would be just one of the two kicks Sam Ficken would make on the day.
Penn State missed out on an opportunity to put more points on the scoreboard just before the half with some questionable clock management.
Virginia took their first lead of the game early in the third quarter when Michael Rocco capped a nice drive with a one-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Mathis to the left side of the field.
Penn State retook the lead with a big touchdown pass from McGloin to Allen Robinson, but a missed extra point attempt would leave the Nittany Lions in a less than desirable position, despite having the lead.
A 32-yard field goal from Ficken a couple minutes later gave Penn State a 16-10 lead but the kicking woes would not be overcome for Penn State.
Rocco’s second touchdown pass of the game, a six-yard pass to Jake McGee, put the Cavaliers in front following a successful extra point conversion by drew Jarrett, 17-16.
Penn State moved down field and had a chance to win the game with a last-second field goal but Ficken’s fourth missed field goal sailed wide left and doomed any sort of a come from behind victory for the visitors.
It was a particularly tough loss given that Penn State’s defense played a much tighter game than a week ago, when Ohio seemed to find some cracks to wiggle through in a second half rally in the season opener.
The Penn State defense forced four turnovers and held Virginia to under 300 yards of total offense (297 yards) and allowed just 1.3 yards per rush, but the pass defense allowed 257 yards through the air from Rocco.
Penn State’s running game was no assurance either, with Derek Day leading the team with 46 rushing yards on 18 attempts and Curtis Dukes adding 30 yards on 10 carries.
Bill Belton did not play after being banged up last week against Ohio, and freshman Akeel Lynch is not quite ready to see the field just yet.
Penn State rushed for 120 yards, with starting middle linebacker Glenn Carson having a 19-yard run and freshman quarterback adding 18 yards on three rushing attempts while relieving an injured McGloin.
Despite dropping another tough game, head coach Bill O'Brien was proud of his team's effort.
"I'm really proud of these kids," O'Brien said. "Left it all out there today."
Player of the Game
Steve Greer, Virginia Linebacker
Virginia’s leading defensive player finished the game with 15 total tackles, boosted by 12 assisted tackles. Greer led all players with two sacks and 2.5 tackles for a loss of 13 yards.
Honorable Mention: Michael Mauti, Penn State linebacker
In a losing effort, Penn State senior Michael Mauti led the Nittany Lions with nine tackles, one forced fumble and fumble recovery. Mauti led all players with five solo tackles.
What Does it Mean?
Penn State’s defense forced four turnovers, including three fumble recoveries. If nothing else, the concerns that were prevalent last week against Ohio were mostly answered this week by the defense, who was tougher and more reliable for the most part.
On offense, Penn State was almost as balanced as any team could be, with 43 passing plays and 42 rushing plays.
Paul Jones was not used in place of an injured McGloin, suggesting that O’Brien may not be pleased with his ability to run the offense. But after the game, O’Brien mentioned that Jones will begin practicing and perhaps playing some time at the F tight end position in addition to quarterback.
Steven Bench became the first true freshman quarterback to play for Penn State since Rob Bolden opened the season for the Nittany Lions in the 2010 season.
Penn State drops to 0-2 for the first time since the 2001 season.
Penn State returns home next week to host Navy.
The Midshipmen had a bye in week two after opening their season in Ireland against Notre Dame. Navy returned home with a 50-10 loss against the Fighting Irish.
The Nittany Lions will hope to avoid the first 0-3 start since the 2001 season, which started with four straight losses before a victory against Northwestern. Kickoff for the Navy game is set for 3:30 p.m. on ABC or ESPN2.
Virginia will open their ACC schedule next week at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets dropped their season opener on Monday night at Virginia Tech, losing in overtime 20-17. Virginia is looking for their first 3-0 start since 2005.
That season Virginia ended their year with a 7-5 record, capped with a 34-31 win against Minnesota in the Music City Bowl. Virginia’s game at Georgia Tech will air at 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
Kevin McGuire is the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast, managing editor of Nittany Lions Den and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.